NJ iGaming Weekly: Another Small Win for NJ’s Poker Rooms; Volume Approaching Three-Month High

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New Jersey continues to recover from a prolonged swoon, with cash-game traffic eclipsing the high-water mark of 350 for the first-time since May 7.

Last week marked the fifth out of the past six that the Garden State’s now eight-month-old market experienced week-over-week gains; a feat more in line with what one would expect to see in October, not July. And all this without the help of a major promotional roll-out.

Well played, New Jersey.

But not all was sunshine and flowers, as the online portion of Borgata’s DeepStack Extravaganza failed to meet the precedent set by its live predecessor, largely due to the Borgata shooting itself in the foot.

Deepstack Extravaganza lone black mark in an otherwise prosperous week

The role of deepstack tournaments in the poker world is undeniable. Not only do they allow skilled players to utilize most, if not all, of their skill set, they simulate a high buy-in atmosphere without a high buy-in price.

Call it the best of both worlds.

So of course when word got out that the Borgata was running a cross-promotional deepstack tournament and leaderboard series, with half the tournaments to be held at the Borgata’s b&m location and the other half online, my gut told me it was going to be a rousing success.

I was half right.

The first six events of the series (the live portion) crushed their modest guarantees. But when the series transitioned online it tanked, and I’d argue that Borgata’s ineptitude is mostly at fault.

To illustrate:

  • Players started the online tournaments with anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000 chips (400 – 800 big blinds), with levels creeping up every 20 minutes. To the average online player, that’s beyond deep – and may have served to turn some off. This was the most forgivable of Borgata’s follies.
  • Less forgivable were the payout structures, which paid out over 20 percent of the field, delegating only an average of 20 percent of the prize pool to first place.
  • The middling buy-ins and low guarantees hardly distinguished the online Deepstacks as anything special, especially when bigger prize pools could be found playing in the site’s nightly tournaments.
  • The Deepstack series did not share player liquidity with Borgata’s partner, NJ.PartyPoker.com.
  • But the Borgata’s biggest grievances against logic and rationale were the 8:00 pm starting times. Despite the smallish fields, the tournaments (many of which took place during the week) would regularly end between 2 and 5 am.

I was of the mind that Borgata / Party had learned their lesson regarding the appeal of earlier start times months ago, when they shifted the starting time of their weekly major back several hours. But apparently not.

Regularly scheduled tournaments perform better

The Deepstack series notwithstanding, the state’s other mid-to-high buy-in MTTs performed well.

Results as follows:

  • PartyPoker NJ 50k Guarantee: $185 + $15 buy-in, 298 runners, $55,130 prize pool
  • PartyPoker NJ 10k Guarantee (Sunday): $91 + $9 buy-in, 143 buys, $13,013 prize pool
  • WSOP.com 25k Weekly: $200  + $15 buy-in – drew 124 entrants, creating an insignificant $200 overlay
  • WSOP.com $10k Daily (Saturday): $25 + $2.50 R&A, 125 players, 163 re-buys, 93 add-ons – creating a $475 overlay
  • 888poker “Big Sunday” $10,000 Guarantee: $185 + $15 buy, 63 runners,  $11,655 prize pool
  • Ultimate Poker $2,500 Guarantee: $91 + $9 entry fee, 24 players, $316 overlay

For 888 and Party /Borgata, it was their strongest showing in some time. And while WSOP’s biggest majors failed to hit their guarantee, they still performed more admirably than in weeks prior.

Cash-game volume continues to impress

7-day average cash-game volume was up  a rather significant 7.6 percent last week, with the majority of the surge occurring between last Sunday and Tuesday. Since, volume gains have been more of the incremental variety.

Each of the state’s three networks (Ultimate Poker’s near non-existent traffic is no longer being recorded by PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout) saw ring game activity rise this week, broken down as follows (last Sunday’s volume in parentheses):

  • PartyPoker NJ: 150 (141)
  • WSOP.com: 134 (122)
  • AAPN (888poker): 69 (66)

WSOP.com saw the biggest gains (9.8 percent), all without the help of a major promotional launch – although a flash 200% match bonus + $10 free certainly didn’t hurt.

Back when the site announced its new player loyalty structure, I had predicted that there would be a prolonged traffic falloff. But it appears the losses incurred by the restructuring were offset by augmented brand awareness, a strong promotional schedule and a temporary increase to the site’s first deposit match bonus – all of which helped to increase cash liquidity.

Party / Borgata also continued its recovery (6.4 percent gain), although with WSOP.com once again knocking on its door, the network’s margin for error is exceedingly narrow.

And finally, 888 continues to ride the momentum of its stellar Double Points Summer and Summer Slam! promos – although I have to wonder what will transpire in August when the promos end. Sans another cashback deal, smart money is on a large segment of 888’s fair-weather players gravitating back to either Party or WSOP.

Other quips

  •  The Tropicana has decided to put the launch of its coolly anticipated online poker room on hold. Given that two of New Jersey’s five iPoker networks are already non-factors, that was probably a wise choice.
  • WSOP’s ESPN Play Along Tournament promotion starts next Tuesday. From now until August 12, players can “play along” with the weekly WSOP broadcast on ESPN via a special $2,500 guarantee ($11 R&A). Illusions aside, it appears that the promo is actually just a field test for a revised nightly tournament schedule.
  • 888’s Sit N Go 25% Cashback promo has done little to bolster activity, indicating that players prefer to compete for cash prizes via a leaderboard than to regularly receive a small portion of their buy-in back.
  • Amaya is working on integrating its slot machine games into Full Tilt Poker’s clients. Will we eventually see a FTP poker room and casino in New Jersey?
- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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